tv Book Discussion on The Last Empire CSPAN June 21, 2014 8:47pm-9:45pm EDT
comes from the village and enters parliament. we love that story that she has also decided to show herself as a human being. some of the ugly and some of the week that we all have been us. that's a very conscious decision by her and also to invite me into her family. i tried to treat that very respectfully and carefully. >> host: this is the tv on c-span2 and we are doing a preview of some of books coming out in the fall. "the underground girls of kabu kabul," jenny nordberg is the author subtitle in search of hidden resistance in afghanistan coming out in september.
hour-long program is next on booktv. >> good morning. i am joanne myers director of public affairs programs and on behalf of the carnegie council i would like to welcome our members guests and c-span booktv to this public affairs program. our guest today is serhil plok plokhy. he is professor of ukraine history and director of the ukrainian research institute at harvard university. his book "the last empire" the final days of the soviet union will as he writes will not only lift the curtain of time on the dramatic events leading up to the lowering of the soviet flag and the collapse of the soviet union but it will also provide a much-needed context for what is happening in the ukraine today.
the long-standing narrative of the end of the cold war is one that has been entwined in the disintegration of the soviet union and the triumph of values. to matter that has persisted for decades but the perception of what we could accomplish. for putin the collapse of the soviet union was as he has often said the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century. this in turn has led many western analysts who accuse him of using this current crisis to rewrite the history of the soviet collapse and resurrect the soviet empire. the story of the uncoupling of the soviet union as told in the last empire presents an bold new interpretation of the soviet union's final months. while the soviet union disintegrated for a variety of reasons not least the bankruptcy moral and actual of the soviet system in placing events in ukraine and other advanced
professor plokhy provides historical background. ukraine with destabilizing the region and complicating key of prospect of% agree with the less you might wonder why not only putin but russian nationalist views ukraine is an integral part of their own national story invited difficult to adjust to the reality of an independent ukraine. the last empire will provide many of the match -- much-needed answers for understanding the short course of the crisis and why they struggle with independents among the constituent republics. please join me in welcoming our guest today is serhil plokhy. thank you for joining us let me remind you to please turn off your cell phones and any other electronic devices. thank you. [applause] serhil. thank you for coming. >> thanks a lot for this wonderful introduction.
i want to thank everyone for coming on as early monday morning. finally the rains are over and the weather is wonderful and you still decided to spend this morning talking about books so thank you very much. i am really very pleased to be here and i will try to do my best in terms of today's presentation. i'm not sure how it will go up because well they are for ben to move anywhere around the second thing is that for the last five years all the lectures were showing so the caller powerpoint and again forbidden to use powerpoint. we will see how it will go. the only thing i can promise you is that i will try my best. last week brought very
interesting news from the region and that news had a word that was not there in reporting for the last 20 to 24 years and that word was union. in kazakhstan the leaders of three soviet republics, russia belarus and kazakhstan signed an agreement on the creation of economic union. as far as i know this is the first time since 1991 that we are union and a not commonwealth than something that is quite comprehensive is used in the media and reentered the political vocabulary. in 1991 in december 1991 it was from kazakhstan that the word came that another entity called
the union of soviet socialist republics ceased to exist. at that time leaders of the soviet republics gather together in kazakhstan. the same person hosted the event and at that time they decided that the union not just the old union but any kind of union was gone. it wasn't just the slavic republics but also asia republics and representatives of other countries as well. so that turned out to be in terms of the launch of my book a disturbing and welcoming use for me is the author. that reminded me of the situation two years ago when the manuscript was more or less red and i was looking for a publisher and quite a few publishers were not interested all.
i'm really very fortunate to use asic books and the publisher laura haber who from the beginning was interested in that and endorse that and yesterday i saw heard one of the offense and they said that no one could predict what would happen in the post-soviet space except laura heinrich knew that and was interested in publishing this book. why i wrote this book. there are a number of reasons and one of them is quite personal. dad is that i wasn't at that time in the country, wasn't in the soviet union and wasn't in ukraine. at the time that most of my events take place in the chronological scope of the book is from july 1991. start with the last assignment of george h.w. bush and mikhail gorbachev and then goes all the way to the end of december.
i left moscow on the second day of the coup. i wrote is the beginning of the coup and came back on the 21st of december after teaching at the university in canada for one semester. on the 21st of december the time when they decided there was no soviet union anymore. when i came to the university of alberta they asked me to teach a class on the ussr crisis. at that time i was working on 17th century history. i said come on, i can do that and they said that the students want that. coming from a soviet union i thought a professor would teach what they want and not what the students want. i simply change my view on that. so i decided okay i will teach a course on the ussr crisis but they knew nothing about economics.
lets teach about democracy and the triumph of democracy in moscow. i'm coming from the ukraine. but i know in my perspective is very different. this is about mobilization of national identity. now who's interested in our public? this is not important. that's the only course i can teach. so i prevailed in by the time the course was over the soviet union disintegrated. not exactly because of the drive of democracy in moscow but the nationalization in the republics including russia. so when i revisited the literature on the fall of the soviet union it was three years ago. there was a 20 year investment. i found out that actually what i saw what i read i still was not satisfied with that. there was little in terms of the
perspective and the experience that i had that was reflected in those books. the history was focused on moscow and on washington as well. very important parts of the story which are also part of the story that i tell in my book but the republics were not there. that is why i thought the only way to correct those misinterpretations and omissions would be to write the book. i had to act and formulate my argument against a number of existing narratives on the fall of the soviet union. i told them i would start with russia and what is quite popular in russia in terms of interpretation and the understanding of the causes of the fall of the soviet union are these conspiracy theories that it was the cia or some kind of mysterious project.
people ahead of time for planning the distraction of the soviet union and that is what happened. i couldn't find much evidence to that. the evidence that i was finding was that the administration of president george h.w. bush was trying its best to put gorbachev in place. into late november of 1991 so it's not exactly a conspiracy theory that is popular in russia. ..
relations were it fell apart december 1891 the battle of russia was already run by a vote -- one by russia. since 1991 that fueled the hay to of the soviet union by that time gorbachev did not have money to pay his secretaries. call the money and resources were taken. so the process started immediately. i oil and gas revenues became property of the republic and was property of the russian republican and i am done with my favorite part you can write to of
books then sell it to the publisher and what was my alternative and put into the context of economic decline that may gorbachev's attempts for reform very difficult but but the most important process of the 20th century the disintegration of empires so i put the history of the fall of the soviet union into the context of the ottoman empire the british
empire, the french have empire and the portuguese empire. more or less especially the second half with a major issue once it decides the people at the top fed have to pay benefits intreat most people as citizens what is sometimes called the welfare state in the metropolitan power comes with is too expensive in the 20th century the empire does not bring benefits.
it is a drain on the resources and they had a debate about that's been pressure i was done in a short period of time 1990 and 1991 they had an interest to see president yeltsin of russia on the shore of the black sea with his closest adviser at that time. in to say we don't have resources. if we don't do something drastic with economic reform the popularity will be the of one that something has to
be done. they tried all so to sell the ada to gorbachev that you let the republics go for it now we don't have the resources to keep them but 20 years from now, we're almost 20 years from now the republics will come back. so the vision of russia and the a pull of the region and the republics coming back one way or another no matter how it was arranged it was there and quite prominent in the fall of 1991. the benefit was much more is significant than any other power before that. looked at britain. that means the access to
resources is much more difficult with the oil and gas part of the russian federation for whenever reforms yeltsin had at that time made it much easier. no yeltsin is not the only figure in my book with the action and experience of for a major figure is that the time for what happened at that time those people are president of the united states george h. w. bush boris yeltsin and the
speaker of the parliament and president of ukraine and also i try to tell the story from the republic and what is going on there. so what is my take on the american policy? i mention in the united states they say why a the policy of that kind and why it is also of the end of the soviet union? the reason is quite simple. first of all, since the first gulf war the emerging as a junior partner of the united states so as to the is a partner like that we
would face an unknown and realignment so it is good especially given that the soviet union under gorbachev is prepared to sign agreements with the nuclear arms and everybody banishes the united states for fidel castro eventually drawing support from their government in afghanistan so that is one reason. another is the nuclear arms changed the way the war is fought that is why we have the cold war because of nuclear arms. of made concern of the bush administration at that time is what they call yugoslavia. said today's russia
ukrainian confrontation debates with the two republics with the nuclear missiles. so thinking about the of war you need a victory and a parade the nuclear arms change the way business was conducted robert case -- robert gates wrote we had a victory but not a parade. so exactly pointing in that direction. so what you see is the united states of america with the evil empire keeping it alive as long as possible. the united states was in the
communist party because that undermine the position within the union so the story that i present is much more complex than around the narrative that we have today. what about other players? i talk about yeltsin and the views of his advisers coming to economic reform. but what about gorbachev? it was also trying to save his position. but he was not the only person who tried to do that. but his memoir takes 100 percent of the credit but people said it feel they
can deal with yeltsin immediately at that time he wanted to become a federation the soviet union made it a different name but more less the same number of participants will that is where the person relations come from because gorbachev could not imagine any type of arrangement under yeltsin last but not least the republics and the second-largest republic after russia, ukraine they voted december 1st, 1991 overwhelmingly over 90 percent of those who voted supported the ukrainian independence. the results came and as a surprise to many but especially gorbachev but the
nsa your march there was another referendum that they voted for continuing insistence in the union but a separate union. what happened? first the ball there was economic military and political collapse in march and december 1991. but the second to main reason that the ukrainian political elites were not interested in a continuation of a union experiment until gorbachev came to power they were brought to a moscow first where he worked for
another 10 years as a leader in ukraine then he was replaced by another product of of that machine and the leader of the ukrainian communist party that was the alliance between these two largest groups of the communist party between the russians and ukrainians where the conflict became irreconcilable. so good ukraine voted for independence not the dissolution of the soviet union. why is that falling apart? yeltsin gave an explanation and personal meetings to have this telephone conversation the bush
library is a fantastic resources in general. yeltsin explains it you craig is not fighting the agreement the question is why? otherwise we're outvoted and outnumbered with the two republics against three or four. and that was the position yeltsin took immediately before the coup the position of the burden of the empire has touche share russia on its own is not prepared to do that. that is exactly what happened in belarus december december 1991 the negotiations start with gorbachev between yeltsin
and ukraine and then start from the new union treaty and yeltsin says we will not start there either so look at our relationship. union without ukraine was no interest to russia or any other republic. but the decision was made to stick with russia. so this is true for caused exxon or any others. if it is just an empty shell and gorbachev then the baltics left a long time ago and the republics are not interested so they are almost pushed out of the empire.
the ukrainians got in at some point in russia decided it is not interested but the central asian republics are there but only on the 21st of december that they joined the commonwealth. in the remaining few minutes what i want to say about the way i tell the story of the events today in the region one of the major arguments of the book the soviet union fell not because of the relations because of the politics are policies of the united states but it is part of the union.
haven't lory save now russia and science and economic agreements with belarus and cossacks on. and for a number of reasons did not come. that gap is ukraine. with a pair of the of last year it was an attempt to get ukraine on board. after that figure a revolution in the february of this year and now the two
regions very much in the headlines in this summer and fall of 1991 when the ethnic ukrainians prosecuted the minority and the majority and to the russian in books it is the minority but actually it has other territories is the majority. but the first time these two regions were called by name in a statement in august of 1991 was yeltsin's spokesmen and by that time was happening is yeltsin took away almost all of gorbachev of scours forcing him to cancel his own decrees
tuesday minister of the defense and head of the kgb. russia and was taken over effectively as the soviet union and at that time the yeltsin office warnings were sent to the republics that if this country what that would mean the end the of the agreement that russia had with them and the borders would not be recognized in a more. and crimea could be claimed to by russia. it did not work the way yeltsin envisioned august 1991 because of the rebellion of the republic not just ukraine and the
american states did not want that to happen so the position of the white house was important than yeltsin changes course but already they were there from the very beginning. another point of the beds of 1991 and today's defense the question what drives the of policy in the region today? and unhappiness with the way out of the united states and the country's that there is something else. might take on that is it should be something else. lettuce is mentioned is the promise given to gorbachev
after the reunification of germany. and that you can't go into history this except the documents go through september 1991 and you can see yeltsin secretary of state james baker dusk dash possible russian and membership into nato. so you can make a point of this and/or that episode. sweated is an idea of recreation not soviet union with the politics but the creation that is not common wealth of this space to be dominated by russia. what is already there in september and october 1991
and it saved this already i have already two minutes over my time that an analysis discussion will be asked any way with the question what we can learn from the crisis of 1991 and what the united states can borrow from the arsenal with the it maystadt - - administration today of george h. w. bush. one thing that worked very well in 1991 was the u.s. policy to take on board with the western european players at that time. of course, canada and bush
all the time leading to the ukraine referendum buildings this alliance to win bush spoke for all major players in the region was a unified position of the west so that is why with belarus yeltsin and those leaders the first gold closed to the united states it was clear bush was speaking on that the half but it was different with the disintegration of yugoslavia with its own policy with the united states it is much easier to say than a cheap but it turned out to be something important in 1991 with the
peaceful demise of the empire. that what we see is the last chapter of the same story with you want the beginning of this story by the book. [laughter] and buying is the moral equivalent of reading. [laughter] [applause] >> eight you very much. that was a fascinating description. when i call on you please wait for the microphone and introduce yourself. >> thank you for your intriguing tale. a follow-up.
i'm so caught up my name is susan. with curtains new union apparently he wants to have political ties but the reports are that the effort to members want to restrict it to the economic union. second, what are the prospects of ukraine after coming back together with crimea and the ease? what is the future? >> thank you for this question. i will start with the second question. we are not sure what will happen. the way things are turning
out to 178 regions of ukraine that area of with the black sea there were a provocation and all of those regions but today greasy it is localized and it is too early to say what will happen there. my hope is on the seventh of june ukraine gets legitimate president. so the situation will change on the ground to the also international lead then is my hope. but criteria for the first
time with the beginning of world war ii because it was an next -- and next haping -- happening of european history might take is if ukraine succeeds in the attempts to joanne here up with the business practices crimea will fall sooner or later. the reason for that is most of the supply is come from ukraine but there is talk now that russia tries to change geography to build the bridge between the
federation hint crimea but it would be difficult for a caribbean and to exist and function without cooperation and to if they succeed in terms of reforms with the corruption not going away of military regimes, i think the chances and the longer perspective are good for a trade coming back. whether or not it stays down that road. with the economic union but we stayed out is built on the foundations of another union which was the customs union so now it is a new level and also a military union.
desires they did not understand what they were after. but i did buy the book and how they dealt with gorbachev but have you do with this administration with the attempt to understand what they tried to do. also thank you for the idea i never thought about comparing fdr and bush sr. how they handled the soviet union. what can i say about the current administration? i tell the story of fdr and ambassadors to moscow, with this idea they can work as
moscow. and after two or three years all of them are coming back and as anti-wretched or soviets coming is a news to me the ambassadors before him and after him is of the administration. and washington has the idea that we can work with russia and with that ambassador returning relatively recently they are at this stage where stalin's refusal
other it was very anti-stolen. that is where it is at this point in my opinion. thank you for the question. >> i have two questions. number one why would anyone want to go into an alliance with belarus that is a stalinist dictatorship? and what is gorbachev now thought of in russia? >> made the that was a moment of triumph. publicly to say i told you so you did not listen to me that is what has happened in 1991 and now because of the
dissolution of the soviet union happened too fast for the people put it in this situation had to state the facts so that is on gorbachev. in terms of belarus with us dictatorship in quite some on authoritarian regimes the way that it registers much in that matter but with the other reasons is uh position
and i remember at least in 1981 most of the energy i was aware of to do with the post soviet world was to focus on direct relationships with russia to encourage reform and so on. if i had been asleep 23 years i would wake up to see estonia was in nato? i think i got a wrong on a jeopardy question recently against albania is also. we have that's critical choice to make between dealing directly with russia or to pry loose the neighboring states. how much is attributable to
the fateful choice the leaders of russia of caused exxon and belarus are terrified this will in fact, there world and this is they're afraid to do with this manifestation of stalling and all parts of the world. >> certainly with the russian leadership i am not sure how that raises a difference but decided with of course, of yugoslavia the
relationship with the west will not be one of allies with potential confrontational relationships. that is a take on where brush at those to be the position so they try to create a union that led to compete with the european union the is the way that i see it how to look at that. not cisterna horror latvia but ukraine is a major challenge to that arrangement that exist in russia because of a good half of ukraine speaks the question.
in terms of many elements with the political culture and proa democratic activists to save the middle-class has the ability to mobilize without the support from the e.u. it could be a real domestic threat to the regime of moscow or belarus in a different group. looking as say a possible potential one with politics with success fall countries
to become democratic sometimes for not a good reason at all and that is the message sent to the domestic audience. >> tavis going to ask a question about the of gorbachev's legacy but now i want to talk about putin is like is a. with the next decade rare juicy his policies and him and recently as an economic coup with china with gas and real? and commodities going both ways? thank you. >> let me predict the future [laughter] so that these times i was wrong that i decided it is a
blessing i am paid as a historian. [laughter] because i've led the broke. but the way the guys understand putin looks at himself, as far as i understand with the russians soviets history that he reads books the first time since dahlin. he was not in avid leader for that matter but there were different kinds of books and literature. this is the person to as far as he knows is assured another 10 years. one of the legacies he wants
to leave in russia at that is precluded from the complete collapse in the first term of the president but he looks at himself as someone who will bring russia back to the level of that soviet power in the post soviet space in to bring back the russian us the major superpower were up player in the world with europe and the united states and china. that is how i see it with a russian history and emperors' with the
about a crisis when it was falling apart to say you are a soviet citizen to move to any part of the union des you plunge but there will be 15 different countries you will want to live for the chances of economic prosperity is the people were talking about the pacific rim and to decide that would be the plath on ashley best place to go that was not my prediction but of my students but it did not work. for a number of reasons and moscow control was another. that was the big issue but
what we see now going up and down to resettle people as russia and emigrates from brazil and i don't know how to correct they were with some attempts and i don't think then they bush like that but there is an understanding that there is is a problem if says the sheer numbers of genius population on the border there. and again economic challenges that is all i can say about the far east.